If I was to mention a place in Bulgaria with black outfits and lots of rock, you would be excused for thinking about a hard core metal festival, like the Kavarna Rock Fest for example.
However that would be very far, quite the opposite actually, from what I am on about. The black outfits here, are those of orthodox monks, and the rock, is the porous limestone in which more than 580 years ago, the then “Basarab Monastery” was carved. And very much unlike the Kavarna Rock fest, today, the St. Dimitar Basarabovski Monastery is a place of peace and introspection for pilgrims and curious tourists alike.
Only a short drive from the very enjoyable city of Ruse, on the blue Danube, and just outside the little town of Basarbovo, the Monastery is fairly easy to find. It also has a large car park with restrooms just outside the entrance. For the more adventurous (or less motorized), you can catch a bus to Basarbovo in Ruse and then walk 15 minutes to the Monastery, the wild flowers on either side of the road as your personal decorated path to a harbor of calmness. Which is how I personally made my way, playing my little blue ukulele under the sun and amidst the peaceful green.
St. Dimitar Basarbovski was himself a man of great peace, living the simplest of lives in XVIIth century Bulgaria. Although his life isn’t the most documented, the Saint is revered to this day for his devotion and great love of all living beings which he displayed from his early childhood. The Saint passed away next to a river with a few of his sheep, near the Monastery, where his relics were later transferred. The Orthodox love of relics being what it is, these ended up moving around quite a bit and have of course many miracles attributed to them.
Today, after centuries of turbulent Bulgarian History and a notable flooding in the 40s, the whole ground looks in fine shape. From the colourful and flowery courtyard, 48 little stone steps will take you up to the caves above. There, you can visit a wooden chapel added in 1941 as well as the two chapels carved in the limestone many centuries ago. Time has faded most if not all the original devotional cave paintings, but you do get the sense, in these little stone caves, that this is a very special place. You can stay a short moment alone here, in this atmosphere, quite prone to introspection. Or, if you are Romanian, you can just leave your spare change lying around (I don’t really understand that one to be honest).
The monastery is the only functional men’s Rock monastery in Bulgaria, and it is definitely one aspect of the place’s appeal that it feels very much alive. It isn’t a museum, but a place filled with history, and still a true place of worship and everyday life. A small church behind the recently built house is being restored at the other end of the grounds, and as you visit the Monastery, the orthodox monks are strolling around, having conversations with the builders and gardeners.
Talking of which, we may have actually found the missing link between the St. Dimitar Basarbovski Monastery and the aforementioned Kavarna Rock Fest after all. Here is a little picture of the main abbot of the Monastery giving my little blue ukulele a try. And he rocked. Quite fittingly, considering where we are.